SEATTLE - The University of Washington School of Nursing is launching a new state-funded program in January that partners with local long-term care facilities to address the ongoing staffing crisis.
Select students will participate in the six-month externship program and work in skilled nursing homes with agencies such as EmpRes Healthcare and Pennant Healthcare.
"When I saw this opportunity I leapt at it because it just gives me more of a chance to work with other nurses and to learn from them before I become a nurse myself," said Michael Drake, UW School of Nursing student. "I get to see how nurses teach other nurses so that when I do that, I can do it well and hopefully bring up the next generation of nurses."
Drake said he used to help make video games and work in the gaming industry but eventually left his job to take care of his mother.
"I had a family member, my mother, who had terminal brain cancer and so I quit my job to be an end-of-life caregiver for her, and then after she passed I decided I wanted to continue to be a nurse," said Drake. "The work really resonated with me and I wanted to help other people who had been in a situation similar to mine."
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The state is investing $167,000 into the new program with the interest of supporting and growing nurses who enter long-term care.
"The critical shortages in Long Term Care, especially in skilled nursing facilities has been exacerbated by several variables including lower wages, COVID demands, compassion fatigue, aging workforce, and more higher-paying work opportunities," said Susan Birch, Director of the Washington State Health Care Authority.
The long-term care workforce gap was identified to have shortages of up to 30 to 60 percent of vacant nursing positions in skilled nursing facilities, according to Birch.
The WA State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is also following this ongoing concern and said the number of people aged 65 and older in WA is expected to double over the next two decades.
"So the demand for nurses will increase. Seventy percent of us turning 65 will need assistance with long-term services and supports during our lifetime," said Bea Rector of the WA State DSHS. "This partnership is an opportunity for nursing students get valuable experience in a long term care setting, to see how their knowledge and skills can be used to make a significant difference in the lives of older adults who have physical or cognitive disabilities and to demonstrate that a specialty in geriatrics opens up many career opportunities."
Mindy Schaffner is a clinical specialist with over four decades of experience in nursing. She is the program facilitator at Pennant Healthcare and said a company goal is to provide dignified long-term care.
"How better to do that than connect with an academic institution that has evidence-based practices and research and really can help foster the quality of care that we still want to provide in our facilities," said Schaffner. "I think most of all nurses that work in long-term care absolutely have to understand and want to care for people whose rehabilitation for their illness may take some time."
Students will have a faculty member who is a registered nurse during the externship and a main point of contact at the facility.
Kristin Bolos, the Director of Workforce Development at EmpRes Healthcare said the students will have the ability to come out in the field and practice their skills to help a "very tired workforce."
"We’re going to pair up with them. They’re going to come and they’re going to have a mentor within our centers and really just learn what our culture is and what long-term care is and these are the folks that are particularly interested in long-term care," said Bolos.
Spokesperson Tatiana Sadak of the UW School of Nursing said the plan is to expand the program to other universities and long-term care facilities around the state in the near future.
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